The detention and interrogation by British police of David Miranda, boyfriend of a journalist at the heart of the Edward Snowden NSA leaks furore, has been ruled to be legal by a British judge.
Miranda was stopped at Heathrow airport and interrogated for almost nine hours last August under anti-terrorism legislation while in transit from Germany to Brazil, where he lives with his lover Glenn Greenwald, one of the journalists believed to be in possession of large amounts of secret files leaked by former NSA sysadmin Edward Snowden.
It is admitted that he was carrying classified information between German-resident film-maker Laura Poitras, another confidant of Snowden, and Greenwald on behalf of the Guardian.
During the interrogation, the police seized various digital media from Miranda. It subsequently emerged that he was also carrying a piece of paper on which was written a password which allowed the British authorities to decrypt at least some of the files he was carrying.
Many of those files turned out to originate from within the British intelligence agency GCHQ.
This formed part of the government's argument that Greenwald and his associates (including the Guardian) could not be trusted to keep the files out of the wrong hands*.
The use of counter-terrorism laws to detain Miranda was nonetheless heavily criticised on the grounds that he and his associates are not engaged in terrorism: he and Greenwald sought to challenge the action in the British courts.
That challenge has now failed at the first fence, however, as Mr Justice Laws has ruled (pdf):
The claimant was not a journalist; the stolen GCHQ intelligence material he was carrying was not 'journalistic material', or if it was, only in the weakest sense.
But he was acting in support of Mr Greenwald's activities as a journalist. I accept that the Schedule 7 stop constituted an indirect interference with press freedom, though no such interference was asserted by the claimant at the time.
In my judgment, however, it is shown by compelling evidence to have been justified.
In a lengthy statement posted on Greenwald and Poitras' new website The Intercept, Miranda and his other half promised to continue the legal battle to the European supreme court if necessary, and criticised the decision and the British legal system generally.
"The days of the British Empire are long over, and this ruling will have no effect," said Miranda. "The world already knows: the UK has contempt for basic press freedoms."
Greenwald added: “The journalism Laura and I have done with the Guardian and other major news organizations has spawned international debate and reform, and has been honored with top journalism awards all over the world.
“We made clear long ago that we would not ever be deterred in any way in reporting aggressively on these documents by this kind of thuggish behavior from the British government ... as the world rightfully condemns the Egyptian military regime for imprisoning Al Jazeera journalists on the ground that their journalism is a form of ‘terrorism’, the UK Government yet again shows the repressive company it keeps by doing the same.”
At the moment around 40 journalists are thought to have been in prison in Egypt for weeks or longer. Some have been charged with being terrorists (usually on the grounds that they might be members of the Muslim Brotherhood), others with aiding terrorism or "false reporting". Many other foreign journalists have been assaulted and beaten by government supporters, and/or officially detained for shorter lengths of time, generally having their equipment seized also.
UK Home Secretary Theresa May said of the ruling on Miranda's detention:
“Although the courts have fully supported the use of schedule 7 [of the UK's Terrorism Act 2000] in this case, we constantly work to ensure that our counter-terrorism powers are effective and fair. That is why Parliament has recently approved further safeguards proposed by the government for the use of this essential border and ports security power.”
Edward Snowden himself remains in Russia. ®
*Much though the US/UK intelligence services themselves had also proven unable to keep the files secret.